TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Jameis Winston threw for 202 yards and one touchdown Sunday, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers broke up Cam Newton’s two-point conversion throw in the closing seconds to hold off the Carolina Panthers for a 17-16 victory Sunday and their first winning season in six years.
Winston threw a 10-yard pass to Mike Evans to snap a fourth-quarter tie and became the first player in NFL history to start his career with consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.
But the Bucs (9-7), still in contention for a wild-card playoff berth, left Raymond James Stadium still needing lots of help to secure their first postseason berth since 2007.
Winston’s franchise record-setting 28th TD pass put the Bucs ahead 17-10 with 3:10 remaining. Newton, however, moved the Panthers (6-10) right down the field, with help of a 47-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin and two fourth-down passes to set up a 5-yard scoring pass to trim Carolina’s deficit to one with 17 seconds left.
Instead of kicking the extra point to send the game into overtime, the defending NFC champions opted to go for 2 points. Newton’s pass intended for tight end Olsen was batted away by safety Bradley McDougal.
Tampa Bay entered the regular-season finale clinging to extremely slim playoff hopes, needing to beat the Panthers and have six other games end with favorable results, including Washington finishing with a tie against the New York Giants.
Newton completed 18 of 32 passes for 237 yards, but was intercepted three times.
The Panthers forced a pair of turnovers by Winston in the first half, but couldn’t convert them into points. Graham Gano missed three field goals, including a 36-yarder that would have given Carolina a 13-10 lead with just over six minutes remaining.
Winston was 20 of 35 with one interception and a fumble. He broke Josh Freeman’s club records for passing yards and touchdowns in a season, finishing with 4,090 yards and 28 TDs. Freeman threw for 4,065 yards and 27 TDs in 2012.
The Bucs snapped a two-game losing streak to finish with their first winning record since 2010, when Tampa Bay went 10-6 but failed to earn a playoff berth.
For the Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly missed his sixth consecutive game, even though he had been cleared from the NFL concussion protocol.
Tampa Bay right tackle Demar Dotson returned to the lineup after missing three games with a concussion. Center Joe Hawley (thumb) and guard Kevin Pamphile (foot) left in the second quarter and returned.
Defensive end Noah Spencer (shoulder) and long snapper Andrew DePaola were hurt in the third quarter.
The Panthers’ season is over after they went 17-1 a year ago before losing in the Super Bowl. Six of their 10 losses were by three or fewer points. Tampa Bay is faced with some offseason decisions on how to improve a team that doesn’t have a postseason win since its Super Bowl run in 2002.